About 1.3 million babies are born by cesarean section each year, making up one-third of deliveries. Rather than vaginally, doctors deliver newborns birthed by c-section through an incision in the mother’s abdomen.
While not an uncommon practice, c-sections need adequate recovery time to get new moms back on their feet.
Have you had, or are planning to have, a c-section during your child’s birth? Read on to find out what to expect and how to best handle your c-section recovery.
Immediately After Surgery
Most women remain awake during the cesarean and are well enough to hold their infant after the birth. In a recovery room afterward, medical staff will evaluate your vital signs and monitor you for up to four days.
New moms may feel a residual numbness in their lower bodies from the epidural used during labor. It isn’t uncommon to feel nausea, grogginess, or an itchy, tingling feeling as the drugs work through your system.
Expect the highest pain level to be around 18 hours post-delivery, when the anesthesia wears off. You may receive an oral narcotic or an IV of pain medicine that you can adjust depending on your pain level.
Days Two and Three
You’ll have your catheter removed in the days after your surgery and should increase your activity as much as is comfortable. For recovery of your circulation and bowel function, moving around despite minor pain is essential.
Showering reduces your infection risk, but don’t scrub your incision site. Baths will have to wait until the 7-10 day mark when the surgical area is more healed.
You may suffer painful bouts of gas during this time, for up to a week. Moving around, taking anti-gas and stool softening medication, and maintaining a recommended diet can help reduce this discomfort.
The Following Days
After you deliver your baby, your body will go through several changes to adjust to no longer being pregnant. You should expect:
- Afterpains: Don’t let pain similar to menstrual cramping for the few days following delivery alarm you. These cramps help narrow your blood vessels and reduce vaginal bleeding. Your doctor may prescribe you pain medication or recommend something over-the-counter.
- Discharge: It’s normal to bleed and have other discharge for a few weeks after delivery. Your body must expel the blood and tissue that kept baby safe and healthy. The blood will look red and may be heavy initially but should taper off in the weeks to follow.
- Breast Tenderness: Breasts produce colostrum in the 3-4 day period after delivery. This substance is rich in nutrients for baby’s immunity, but you may notice swelling and soreness during and after this time. Expect an increase in volume as your breasts fill with milk, which you can ease with pumping and regular feeding.
- Body changes: You may notice deep-colored stretch marks on your breast and stomach area. They will fade with time, though will not go away entirely. Your hair may also thin for a few months as your hormone levels change.
- Emotional Changes: As your hormone levels fluctuate, you may experience the “baby blues.” Increased worry, anxiety, or fatigue is normal.
C-Section Recovery at Home
After a few days, you’ll return home. During this time it is important to avoid heavy lifting and the use of stairs, as well as driving. Keep what you need within reach, and take it easy while you recover.
Your doctor will advise you on caring for your incision, so make sure to follow all instructions about keeping it clean and undisturbed. You’ll need to avoid sex, tampons, and douches for at least six weeks until your follow-up appointment.
Try to keep your belly still during situations that might jostle it, such as laughing, sneezing, or coughing. Take on extra fluids to replenish what you lost during delivery and through nursing. Ibuprofen and a heating pad can be helpful to reduce pain and some swelling but expect some stomach soreness.
During week two, your postpartum check-up will be an evaluation of your healing process. You should feel significantly better during this time, though cramping and residual pain is normal. It can take up to six weeks for the uterus to contract after a cesarean birth.
Physical Activity After Your C-Section
It’s important to take your time when returning to physical activity to prevent blood clots and aid in normal circulation. In the first few days, taking short walks may be the most you can manage.
Practice deep breaths every day, inhaling deeply every a few times every half hour. This will help reduce lung congestion from sitting for long periods. Roll your shoulders backward and forward a few times a day to ward off stiffness.
Take on gentle stretches, raising both arms above your head while standing against a wall. Once your belly muscles stretch, hold that position for five seconds. You can do this several times a day to boost your flexibility.
Rest often and avoid housework or strenuous exercise during healing. At your postpartum check-up, check with your doctor for updated recommendations on physical activity for someone at your stage of recovery.
By week two, you should be moving about more comfortably. Weeks three through four should see you continuing with increased activity and mobility. By weeks four to six, you should be completely healed and ready to resume all normal activity.
When to Call a Doctor
An uncomplicated cesarean should be completely healed within six weeks, but every woman is different. Listen to your body and take note of anything that seems unusual.
Call a doctor if your surgical site seems abnormally swollen, hot, or painful. If at any time you have a fever of 100.4 or higher, you should seek medical attention. If your vaginal discharge doesn’t taper off, has an abnormal smell, or worsens, it is a good idea to make an appointment as well.
If your “baby blues” seem to be worsening, ask your doctor for a recommendation. Many moms who suffer postpartum depression seek therapy or anti-depressants. There is no shame in reaching out for help if you think your mental health is at risk. As many as 1 in 7 mothers suffer from postpartum depression, but it is treatable.
Welcome to Motherhood
Regardless of if you have a vaginal or cesarean birth, bringing babies into the world is hard work. It’s important to rest, listen to your body, and focus on the importance of your health.
C-section recovery goes smoothly as long as you take care of your needs and follow your doctor’s instructions. Within six weeks you’ll be feeling back to your old self, with the added benefit of a new little one in your life as a reward.
If you have more questions about what to expect during your pregnancy and birth, visit us at PregnancyHealth.Net for your guide to all things pregnancy.